Over time, Mozambique’s majestic Gorongosa National Park has flipped: from wildlife haven to killing ground to sacred ground of peace-making and recovery.
As African heads of state gathered in Addis Ababa recently to evaluate the progress of silencing the guns and creating an environment conducive to development, Gorongosa stands as a warning sign and also symbol of hope.
During Mozambique’s 1977-1992 civil war, the battles waged in Gorongosa left millions of people dead or maimed.
The war also ruined the ecosystem and killed 90 per cent of elephants, buffalo, zebra and wildebeest as soldiers poached them for money or slaughtered them for meat.
When the war ended, just 15 buffalo, 100 hippo and a few lions remained. But with peace also came opportunities to rebuild communities for 100,000 people and restore the environment.
By 2018, grasslands, shrub lands and forests were recovering, 1,000 buffalo roamed the area and the hippo population had quintupled.
When Cyclone Idai struck last year, healthy ecosystems absorbed dozens of millions of gallons of water, saving villages from floods.
Through the Gorongosa Restoration Project, families have improved their agriculture, health and education and eco-tourism adds local jobs.
Protection of nature is central to sustainable development, mitigation of climate change and secure and peaceful societies. Yet nature is being lost at a frightening rate.
Habitat conversion, the unsustainable use of natural resources, urbanisation and climate change all undermine the foundations of the natural world.
The earth has lost 60 per cent of terrestrial wildlife and 90 per cent of the big ocean fish. A million plant and animal species are threatened with extinction.
We are clear-cutting rainforests at a rate of four football fields per minute.
The impact of land and ecosystem degradation on biodiversity, productivity and human well-being in Africa affects more than 485 million people and costs $9.3 billion (Sh940.2 billion) yearly.
That which has been destroyed in centuries, we must act to restore in a decade to avert greater natural, climate and human catastrophes.
But there’s a roadmap to action. The Campaign for Nature offers a science-driven, ambitious ‘New Deal’ that rallies world leaders to protect at least 30 per cent of the planet — its land and water — by 2030.
The “30x30” rallying cry fuels the drive, a partnership of the Wyss Campaign for Nature, National Geographic Society and a growing coalition of over 100 conservation and indigenous peoples’ organisations.
The campaign has launched a High Ambition Coalition for Nature and People, composed of government leaders, to drive high-level action on 30x30.
It calls for mobilisation of financial resources to manage protected areas and full integration and respect for indigenous leadership and rights in the work of conservation.
Locals have to own protected areas and benefit from their protection for conservation to succeed and promote inclusive socioeconomic development.
Africa generates 62 per cent of its GDP through industries that are highly or moderately dependent on nature, like agriculture.
And a major risk that business faces from the loss of nature is increased conflict. It can, and should, take the lead in driving action toward 30x30.
At this year’s 15th Conference of the Parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity, due in Kunming, China, targets will be updated to reflect the full extent of our planetary crisis.
Many African countries have already committed to conserving their natural heritage. Rwanda and Uganda have resolved to achieve 30x30.
Ethiopia has written environmental protection into its Constitution. Namibia has designated its entire coastline as a national park.
Through 30x30, we can save biodiversity, generate jobs and income, mitigate climate change and silence the guns.
Mr Desalegn is a former prime minister of Ethiopia. [email protected]